Celebrating 100 days on my self care and depression recovery journey today.

And no, I’m not just posting a “smouldering, bewildered, real time” Instagram selfie to commemorate, haha. Yet another reminder that I shouldn’t just commit on the spot when people set a challenge for me. Next thing I’ll be committing to running a naked mile when I hit 200 days!

Today marks 100 days since I decided to seek treatment for my depression, since I started taking anti-depressants, quit drinking, changed my eating habits and generally just started focusing on my day-to-day self care and self love again. Here we are. I must say, it felt pretty damn good getting up this morning, even though 100 days isn’t that far in and I know the road ahead remains long and bendy. I shouldn’t digress and underplay the day though. It feels pretty damn good to be here this morning, with a smile on my face, after what felt like a situation that I didn’t think I would ever get myself out of. Depression is a beast and it will try to convince you that you can’t do it, but I promise you, you are strong, and with the right tools and support, you can get and will navigate yourself out of the murky waters. There is no ‘quick fix’ solution and I am by no means done – this is simply a small notch on the journey and one that is important to acknowledge and give some energy to.

We rarely celebrate the small victories in life, and today is all about that. I’m going for a coffee toast to #100Days this morning (nothing fancy or major) and I am very excited about doing so. Mental health victories should be celebrated just like career and life milestones, and this is one that I am particularly excited about. Am I a little bummed that I’m not getting a chip with Beyonce’s face on it for being sober for 100 days? Maybe just a little. But the hugs I’ll be requesting from the people I see in person today will certainly make up for that.

All jokes aside, I feel pretty fantastic this morning and am proud of myself for committing to this journey and for getting through the first stretch. The rewards have been vast and far reaching, which you’ll gather if you read some of my other posts. I must say, it has been incredible to get feedback about my journey from all over the world, and to have readers from various parts across the globe. It shows how depression and mental health remains a uniting force for us all, and that it’s something that requires a voice no matter where we are or what stage of life we’re in. Please keep talking about it. Please reach out if you need to. We can tackle this thing together if we remain courageous and proud to be vulnerable each day.

Before I head out to kick off this day, I wanted to take a second to express a sea of gratitude to my friends, family, colleagues and to YOU, for reading the blog and supporting this joy meets vulnerability journey of sass and hot mess-ness (maybe that should be the new tagline for the site) over the past 100 days. It truly means a lot to me.

I need to quickly acknowledge three of the special ladies in my life. Jana, Kate-Lyn & Bianca – you guys keep reminding me that it’s ok to be me. That it’s ok to do you, boo. Along with my family, you guys have been my pillars over these 100 days. You ground me and bring so much joy to my day. I can’t express in words just how much energy I get from my interactions with you, from the small acts of love you bestow on me, and my life is truly better since you guys came along. Thank you for putting up with my Saturday voice notes when I’m on the verge of tears about something as small as a cup (and so much more). Thank you for keeping me on the straight and narrow when I want to make bad self care decisions. Thank you for being your honest selves and for what you mean to me. I say it a lot but I don’t say it lightly: I love you so much, sistrens.

Here’s to getting to 200 days, and continuing to take things one day at a time.

Conrad was here.

Slipping up as I kick off month 4 of depression recovery, but making an active effort to bounce back sooner rather than later.

I could feel it coming on, but didn’t quite know how or when it would play out.

I used to have two favourite stress coping mechanisms: alcohol and food binges. I’ve discussed abstaining from alcohol until December quite extensively in previous posts, so I thought I’d give some time and weight to the latter. Wait, I have to give some time to the latter, as I slipped up yesterday and have a few things on my mind about it.

At the peak of my depression over the last few years, I was, almost daily, ploughing my body with unhealthy food. I would eat pizza at least 4 days a week, and take regular (daily) trips to different supermarkets to buy sweets, sugary cereal and as much chocolate as I could lay my hands on. I’d usually buy the same kinds of foods in the same period – almost in routine fashion. The list would be small but the items would always be in excess. A chocolate bar wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be a slab. One pizza wouldn’t be enough, it would have to be two, thick based doozies with so much oil I could start a fucking mine (ok maybe I’m being a bit dramatic). Since I started my depression recovery, I’ve been meticulous about eating healthily, cooking meals for myself and cutting down on the sugar, all in an effort to see how it would affect my mood and ability to get into a better mental and emotional space. Naturally this has had a great effect on my health, including the fact that I’ve dropped over 13kg’s, but I knew that temptation still loomed around the corner (this process isn’t a straight line after all), and I was wondering when it would be knocking on my door.

This is how I knew I was heading for a relapse of sorts in terms of the binge eating and it’s worth noting so I can feel it coming on in the future:

  • My sleeping pattern has been irregular again for the past week or so. I’ve been waking up very early (in the 4am region) and my body has required more sleep as I’ve been ill with flu for the past week. My mind hasn’t been able to switch off efficiently.
  • I missed therapy last week due to being ill, and I thought that taking a two week break between sessions would be ok, but not having the release and opportunity to share openly in a safe space (even if just for an hour) has shown me that it is not a good idea for me to go for an extended period of time without a session. That, coupled with travelling, clearly took a toll, regardless of how enjoyable my trip was.
  • I woke up and operated in militant fashion yesterday morning. I cleaned the apartment, organised my schedule by-the-hour (always a no-no, as you simply can’t maintain a 6am-6pm schedule in such a way without at least one thing being thrown out), got to work two hours early (dude!), and still expected that I would be able to get to everything I needed to and in the exact order that I had planned. Ironically, I also decided to preach to two people at work about spending too much time at the office (the nerve). Needless to say, by 3pm, I was fried and I couldn’t concentrate. Not only that, but I ended up staying late, until close to 6pm, meaning I had 11 hours at the office, something I used to do when I was in corporate and a promise I made to myself I wouldn’t do ever again, no matter how many companies I started or ventures I worked on, or how many adventures my career took me on.
  • I’m supporting a bunch of my friends through some murky waters, which is something I take on gladly and feel is part of a natural gift of connection, but also something that can take a toll and something I need to manage. It is so important for me to create boundaries in these situations, as I can get quite swept up, and distract myself from self care in the process. I’ve recently found myself worrying more and more about others, and slowly diverting attention away from my depression recovery, which contributed to what went down last night for sure.

For a bit of context I’ll tell you a bit about how I used to operate. In the past, I would feel awful and stressed, go buy alcohol and a ton of sugary food, switch my phone off for the rest of the day and simply lock myself away from the world, stuffing my face and numbing the pain with booze. This was my primary coping mechanism. I wasn’t on any kind of anti-depressant, wasn’t in therapy, didn’t have a coach, didn’t write, didn’t express myself in any kind of positive way. I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall into the same trap exactly yesterday, but it got awfully close and it was a nice reminder that I may not be doing as well as I’m projecting to people that I’m doing.

On the way home last night, after sitting in unusually long traffic thanks to the rain, I decided to stop at the local supermarket, ready to buy my one true kryptonite – a chocolate cereal box called Squillos, essentially a sugar laced, chocolate cereal with no nutritional value. I went through a phase in university where I ate a box of the stuff in a day and my weight spiralled from doing so. A whole box a day, yes. It had terrible consequences physically, not only to my appearance but in terms of my digestive health and I would feel bloated and tired all the time, compounding my depressive thoughts. As I was stopping at the supermarket, beating myself up for being so weak and not being able to resist the temptation, I kept thinking you know what you’re about to do, you know that there are always consequences when you do and in true human form (we are all flawed after all) I went in anyway and happily swiped my card for what certainly wasn’t an act of self care.

Let me paint you a picture. I went into the shop, grabbed what was the last box of the poison on the shelf (seems other people also like eating this crap), walked past the bakery section and grabbed two plain scones (because a box of cereal just wouldn’t be enough), along with a small Lindt dark chocolate bar, as well as a Tex milk chocolate bar. I approached the counter rather sheepishly, feeling guilty and ashamed that I was allowing myself to do this again, and ended up marching out of the store and home, avoiding eye contact where possible. It felt like a heroin addict getting a fix! What subsequently followed, was me switching my cell off – in fact, I had done it while sitting in traffic – hell bent that “tonight was my night” and “I didn’t give a shit” and I didn’t want to have to deal with anything. I got home, avoided my landlady, shut the curtains, threw all my things down (I didn’t even put my bag inside the cupboard, threw it on the floor), put PJ’s on with much effort, plonked myself in bed, put on an episode of Intervention (ironic, I know) and ploughed through the food in the space of a few minutes. Scones and chocolate down, I decided to tackle the cereal. I ate one cup of the stuff, and something told me that I needed to stop.

I think I realised that there would be consequences to a binge like this, and I simply didn’t want to put myself through more pain just because I was numbing my anxiety. There have always been consequences to a binge, especially when alcohol is involved, not only because I would treat people I care about like shit without feeling bad, but also because it compounded my depressive thoughts and usually meant that I would take a day or two to recover. It simply throws everything out and derails any progress in true all or nothing fashion and I hate that it’s such a big deal to me, but it is, and that’s part of the path that I am walking now.

Something changed in my head ahead of pouring the second cup of cereal. I got up, and poured out the rest of the box into the trash, and threw it away. This was a big moment for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was still feeling like I had stuffed my face, but I loved myself enough to stop and to attempt to regroup before totally spiralling. I switched my phone back on, it had been about two hours, and I had a bunch of messages, including one from my work friend Dan, who had tracked down a link to Robin Williams’ documentary about his life. Winning. A small victory, but a victory nevertheless. If I hadn’t changed my tune, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the documentary for the rest of the night (cell would have been off), I would have woken up feeling like shit, and also missed out on a couple of great conversations over the course of the night. A nice reminder that there is so much to be missed out on if you shut yourself away and numb your feelings. Reaching out and talking to people when I felt like this, hell, even writing about it now, is a better alternative and helps me to gain better insight and understanding around my depression and how I’m navigating it day-to-day.

I’m reminded now to keep being gentle and kind to myself as I tackle the rest of the week. Did last night mean I didn’t pack away the washing? Yes. Did last night mean I didn’t replace my car licence that arrived in the post, like I planned to? Of course. Did last night mean I didn’t was all the dishes like usual? Yeah. Did last night mean I didn’t plan out my Tuesday? Absolutely. I lose quite a bit of control over my day-to-day when I get into the militant, stressed mode and it’s almost like I’m just trying to get through, almost zombie-ish and unaware of the fact that I’m spreading myself too thin.

Sure, last night had some consequences for how I’m starting my day, but are they all bad? No. I might have woken up at 3am, but here I am, writing and sharing and showing that the journey is not all rainbows and butterflies. I want to give last night sufficient weight, and acknowledge that it’s something I should address in therapy today, but better than that, I know now that I have to be kinder to myself going into this new day. Here’s what I’m focusing on today:

  • Go into work when you’re supposed to, no earlier, no later. Yes, stay for the cupcake-making competition the HR manager is organising so excitedly for 5pm (yes that’s sarcastic but you know my sass game is real), but don’t stay longer than 30 minutes.
  • Avoid scheduling each second of your day. Write a few things down and tackle those if you’re able to. Don’t be too harsh on what you’re able to achieve today.
  • Prioritise getting to therapy today and play open cards in the session. Remind your therapist just how important your sessions are to your mental health prioritisation and that you’re worrying about the sessions coming to an end in 5 weeks.
  • You don’t need to eat rabbit food today to counter that you had a binge last night. You’re giving it enough time and energy by bringing it to light today. Pack a healthy lunch and grab a cappuccino with a slice of milk tart if you feel like it. It’s cool that you didn’t pack your lunch last night, you can forgive yourself. Yesterday was yesterday, you should acknowledge that you stumbled, but that you also recovered quite quickly, which is a great thing.
  • Remind yourself today that you can only do so much and that you’ve been doing incredibly these last few months. There are so many great things in your life, and there is so much to be thankful for. Your life is so different than it was a year ago. Remember, this is only the beginning! Keep going.
  • Shame passes, but resilience breeds momentum.

Conrad was here.

What actually happened at the end of a five year plan I discussed in a magazine interview in 2013.

In 2013, I was interviewed for a publication called Career Compass, an opportunity that was set up by a friend. The article essentially detailed my career journey towards becoming station manager at the local radio station at 23 years old, which happened as a result of me gaining experience and working part-time while I was studying at university. It was meant to inspire other students to consider working alongside studying to build up their CV’s, before heading into the job market (something I would still recommend and I know is more of a requirement these days considering the global employment outlook).

I was rather shocked when, a couple of days ago, one of those dreaded Facebook memories popped up (thankfully not reminding me of the “Conrad Schwellnus is READYYY 2 PARTAY tonight” posts from 2007), showing that it had been five years since the article had been published. I was curiously interested in seeing how differently I felt now, all these years later, especially considering my new journey of self care and mental health prioritisation, and also to find out what my 30 year old self would have to say about how my 25 year old self saw and portrayed himself publicly.

While I essentially skimmed through the interview, scared I would be totally embarrassed by my answers, one question caught my eye; the dreaded “Where do you see yourself in five years?” humdinger, which possibly grabbed my attention as a result of the fact that it is now five years later (alarm bells in my head), and that I’m actually busy living the “end” of my so-called set out five year plan. Here’s how I answered the question in the interview:

“I’m a firm believer in setting up five year plans for yourself. Recently I stumbled across a list I had written for myself in June of 2008. We’re now five years from that point. Point 8 said “Get involved with the opportunities at MFM [92.6 Radio Station]. Make a name for yourself. While this is one point I have certainly achieved and I am proud of, there are other areas that I still need to work on. It’s a constant process of evaluating yourself and your life, and the harder you work on yourself, the greater the rewards.

Needless to say my 2018 list is currently in draft phase! In five years (when I turn 30), I see myself working in the music and broadcasting industry, but across more areas of the industry. I’m very interested in taking up a management role in a commercial radio environment but I would also like to pursue my other interests, such as songwriting, journalism and marketing.”

Here’s how I interpret the piece now, today, as I’m sitting under the covers, snuggled up and listening to the rain, on leave from work and taking a day to do whatever feels right. Please enjoy the running commentary that played over in my head from reading the answer out loud to myself this morning.

I can’t believe how much I wanted to control my life and my path. I can’t believe how rigid I was about my career and where it should go, what I was expected to do, and what path it should have taken. I can’t believe a goal was to “make a name for myself” and to so blatantly blow smoke up my own ass, and say that I have already achieved this. I can agree with constantly evaluating your progress, not constantly evaluating yourself (essentially I said you should evaluate who you are!). I have also learned that working hard is not the only way to reap rewards or to find joy in life. Sometimes life gives you gifts, and sometimes they can be as small as a kindness from a stranger, or a hug from a friend on a bad day.

I mentioned blindly that I still wanted to work in the music and broadcasting industry at 30. I worked for a major record label between 2014 & 2017, and it was a tremendously bad fit for my mental health. I was hellbent on a management role in an industry that wouldn’t be able to satisfy my soul, as much as I had wished it would. It must also be said, that I mentioned commercial radio in the interview not because I wanted a job in commercial radio, but because I assumed it would look good to a prospective employer. I had no intention of staying in radio and am shocked that I even said that back then as I knew it was never about the industry itself for me. What working in that industry was for me, was that it was always about connecting with the people and my team: this included individual development, goal setting and guiding potential in people wherever it was possible to do so.

I certainly am nowhere near where I was expecting to be based on the response to the question in the interview. I now work in the conservation industry (which I could have never predicted in a million years), as well as running a marketing consultancy called Delve 6, which has just signed its tenth client. I recently started up a mental health coaching business called Delve Deeper Coaching, signing my first client just this week, something I am tremendously excited about. Is my life worse off for being on this path, rather than the one I had expected myself to be on now? Very doubtful.

I could have never predicted that my career would have brought me here, even to this very blog and this very moment where you are reading what I want to share, and I wish I had given myself more freedom to enjoy the way in which life brought me here, highlights and rug-pulling-out-from-under-you moments combined. The years since I made “the plan” and the second half of my twenties can only be called a hot mess, as all of life tends to be and we need to get comfortable with things being messy! I made some good and bad decisions but I’m accountable to each and have taken as many lessons as I possibly can from it all.

I was convinced that turning 30 meant I had to “have my shit together” so to speak and that I’d have it all figured out by then. I wish I could have just given over control right from the start of my career, taken it day-by-day, and seen it as a marathon, and not a sprint. I may well have ended up writing more songs than the two I penned about my first love in my twenties (please stop laughing) and I may well have had the guts to submit them to the artists that I worked with on the daily had I not believed I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve to enjoy my life. All of that is busy changing thanks to prioritising my mental health and my general wellbeing and the past three months have really starting driving this point home for me in a big way.

Before I carry on with my day off, I wanted to share how I would answer the question now, at 30, and having started this new journey of self care, connection and mental health advocacy. Short, sweet and to the point, with the BS meter in check:

I don’t believe in setting up five year plans for yourself at all. In five years, I’d like to have lived out over 500 000 five minute plans. I’d like to have taken time to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on what I think the destination should be. I’d like to be better at cutting myself some slack in each sphere of my life. I’d like to have celebrated the small and big victories, as well as continuing to learn from the losses and disappointments. I’d like to be encouraging others to take their lives just a few minutes at a time and to be living that very mantra myself, no matter how difficult it may be. All of this in honour of my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I want to have connected with as many people from as many walks of life as possible, in order to learn more about myself and also nurture and encourage potential wherever possible. Let’s see how it goes and be alright with whatever the outcome may end up being.”

Conrad was here.

 

 

Why I decided to put in leave for a “mental health day” for the first time in my career.

Simply put, it was time. I’ve been working full-time for seven years, and not once has it crossed my mind that it was something worth prioritising – something I think a lot of us can relate to in the hustle and bustle of modern life.

I’ve been on this journey for nearly ten full weeks know, and if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that things have changed drastically since I acknowledged I needed to get help and started to prioritise my self care.

On Monday this week, I could feel that I was slowly starting to crawl towards a burnout. My friends and colleagues could see it and each day got progressively worse. There is always a clear sign that not many people spot, but if I don’t shave more than twice a week, you know that there is more going on than I’m letting on. I had been navigating my full time employment, side hustle business, tax affairs and a substantially more active social life in recent weeks to a point where I was starting to feel it coming on and I could predict that things were moving in a different direction. I was starting to plan each hour of each of my days out in militant fashion, a sign (my therapist agrees) that the train is moving in the wrong direction. As a friend told me, you don’t have to prove to anyone that you’re doing OK. It’s OK to not be OK. This was the catalyst for me making a decision to request leave for today, kicking off a day of self love and care and giving me the chance to bring myself back to the kind of space I’m comfortable being in.

So why did I do it? Because frankly put, I still need to actively prioritise my mental health, even though things are starting to get better. This process is a journey, with good days, and bad days. Had I not come to this decision, and just carried on this week, waiting out the weekend, I guarantee I would have spent the next couple of days locked in my apartment, with the curtains drawn and my cellphone off. It would have in all likelihood led to a trip to the GP next week, with a few sick days – never a good look, and not something I want to put my employer, colleagues or clients through.

So what actually happened today, was the freedom for me to relax, and do whatever feels right. Yes I’m a compulsive planner, but I decided to set a few guidelines for myself, rather than having an iron fist schedule of what I needed to “tick off” today. It started with agreeing that my cell wouldn’t be off for the day (usually how I cope – by switching off from the world), and I made an active effort to reach out to people this morning. Essentially, I did the opposite of what old Conrad would have done. Where was I, you ask? The beach. It was the most spectacularly beautiful morning (see my Instagram for a pic) and I was nearly moved to tears as I walked down the coastline, cappuccino in hand and armed with a Spotify playlist called “Hot Mess” (a reference to life in general, and filled with so many Ke$ha bangers that I had been neglecting for ages).

What ensued was a couple of things I couldn’t anticipate, but that ultimately put a massive smile on my face. I spotted a quote written on a sign next to the beach (get in touch if you want to know what it said), which made me think of some of the special people in my life. Some have only been a part of my life for a short while, others for a longer stint of the up’s and downs. It just made me realise how incredibly lucky I am to have such an incredible support base around me. It is truly a blessing, especially for someone who gives himself so much flack for being a giant (sasquach), loud, proud, sensitive gay man, often believing that the world is out to get him, particularly so on the bad days. I adore the people I have in my life and I am realising more and more just how much value my peeps add to my day and to the general sustainability of my mental health. If you’re one of them, you know, and I need you to understand that you inspire me to keep going with each and every interaction we have.

As I was sitting next to the sea, I realised that I was craving a waffle and a creme soda (something that is very rare considering how Nuzak suppresses your appetite). I pondered driving to Simonstown, but opted to check in at the local cafe rather, and lo and behold, they sold both. As I sat down to enjoy it (while texting a few friends) a familiar face tapped me on my shoulder. It was my fabulous hairdresser Jamie, her newborn, and her husband. Where in the world would you have guessed that we would bump into each other there of all places? It turns out she was on leave too, and I got to thank her for the wonderful job she did on my hair a few weeks ago. As I got up to walk to my car, I noticed there was an artist creating a sculpture of a mother and baby on the beach (serendipitous much?). His name is Michael, he is so incredibly talented, and his work gets quite a bit of traction on this page. The universe was clearly trying to send me a message about nurturing, and the fact that today is about my own nurturing, hell, even the fact that I am taking time to write for the first time in twelve days, shows that all signs lead to a place of self care. Life is what happens when you’re not making plans, and paying attention to the little things. While I never carry cash these days, I remembered I had a R10 in my pocket from buying a coffee for a friend yesterday – the perfect opportunity to support the arts and encourage creativity in a place I was not expecting it! For the first time in a long time, things just felt in sync, something I hope depression sufferers will speak up about more as they talk about their journey with the disease, and something to be so incredibly thankful for when it happens.

Where will the afternoon take me? I’m not sure. I’ve invited my landlady for a cup of tea, and will then decide where to from there. Perhaps I’ll water my plants, put on a RomCom (I literally watched My Best Friend’s Wedding last night) and spend some time with the dogs on the property. Or I’ll drive somewhere and see what I am pulled towards. I am being strict though, with only choosing activities that are to be considered self care. No house cleaning, but cutting toenails is ok haha. Netflix movie marathon? Now we’re in the right territory. Self love starts with accountability and boundaries and the beautiful thing about doing a mental health day where you’re just going with it, is that you never really know where it’s going to lead you. It provides you with a break from your routine, allows you to gain some clarity and insight, and to generally just soak up the fact that like with my playlist, life is a hot mess for us all. I’m proud of myself for utilising the day in a way that ensures my batteries will hopefully be recharged by the end of the week and would like to give myself a pat on the back for redirecting my energy today. Next week is not a worry right now. I’m living in the moment and seeing where the wind blows me and absolutely f*cking loving it.

Conrad was here.